I’m Rubber, You’re Glue

Definitions of the Humanities are themselves a curious thing, inasmuch as they often raise more issues than they settle. For example, consider this definition as found on the website for the US’s main Federal funding source for research in this area, the National Endowment for the Humanities:
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“You Just Watch Me!”

My undergraduate degree was in what my university (Queen’s University) called Life Sciences–what others might have once called pre-med. Many of us wrote the MCAT (as I did) but not all of us got into medicine (as I didn’t, but as my roommate did). In our first year, we predictably took courses in Chemistry, Biology, Physics (each of which had its own three hour lab too, of course), Calculus, and Psychology–the last being an elective but everyone pretty much took it. In other years we enrolled in such courses as Organic Chemistry, Genetics, Biochemistry, Histology, Abnormal Psych, Anatomy, Statistics, Brain and Behavior, Physiology, etc. I would imagine that many of my classmates who, like the vast majority of us, didn’t get into medicine, have ended up in one of the many adjacent fields–such as going on to do a Master of Science degree in Microbiology (“micro” for the initiated), or eventually going into, say, Pharmacology–either to do research, work for a drug company’s marketing division (as one friend did after getting his Ph.D.), or owning your own pharmacy (the route taken by another good friend from my Life Sciences days). Continue reading

Not Just for a Job…

Our new University President, Dr. Guy Bailey–who, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, earned his own B.A. and M.A. at the University of Alabama (in English)–arrived on campus about a month or so ago, and in a recent interview, had this to say in reply to the following question:

Q. What did UA give to you as a student that you want current students to receive?

A. Our students should have the highest quality education at the best possible value. Their degree and education should equip them not just for a job, but for any career the future might hold for them. UA gave me the ability to write well and think critically. This is what the core curriculum provides and its importance shouldn’t be underestimated today.”

What do you think the relationship is between job training and education? Which do you think the contemporary university is all about? Why do we have a core curriculum? And what’s the liberal arts got to do with it?

Just the Facts

It’s that time of year again, when the local National Public Radio station does its semi-annual on-air fundraising. Interspersed with the sometimes witty pre-taped snippets from national correspondents and hosts of its various syndicated shows, the ten minute fundraising segments mostly consist of people associated with the local station, or local listeners, talking about the benefits of receiving your news from a non-profit sources like NPR. Continue reading

Reexamining the Obvious: “This is Water”

Below–well, after a blurb that I pulled from the speech–are embedded clips (there are two parts, about ten minutes each) to the commencement address that the late writer David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005.  Wallace considers the implications of suggesting that a liberal arts education teaches people “how to think”…  Give it a listen. Continue reading

“Do the Opposite”

In May 2010 I gave a talk to some members of my campus’s Honors College about some possible directions for its future. I learned PowerPoint for the talk–I had, purposefully, never used it before. Although I started my fulltime teaching career (in the early 1990s) simply reading my prepared lecture–as I still do if invited to present a lecture at another school or if giving a paper at a conference–I then moved to using acetate transparencies and old overhead projectors to get a quotation or an image in front of students. (I still have a thick binder full of them that I once used in my 100-level intro class; and yes, I still remember what freshly mimeographed copies also smelled like.) Many of my peers were moving to PowerPoint, though, and, predictably perhaps, students were soon complaining to me about having trouble following my lectures. Continue reading

Info, Info Everywhere, But Which of it to Drink?

About a week ago, a friend at Ursinus College, in Pennsylvania, brought to my attention an online article written by his colleague in their Department of Politics and International Relations, about enrolling in a MOOC (massive open online course) to see what all the fuss was about. You may have heard about these courses–hosted by companies, such as Coursera, that have entered into agreements with schools, they provide the content for courses at some of the country’s leading universities–for free. (Fearing that they were behind this curve was among the apparent reasons why the University’s of Virginia’s Board of Visitors ousted–temporarily–their President this past summer.) Continue reading